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New Argonauts coach Scott Milanovich looking to instil new culture with CFL club

05/15/2012 05:27 EDT | Updated 07/15/2012 05:12 EDT
TORONTO - When Scott Milanovich was named the new head coach of the Toronto Argonauts in December, he listed three priorities for the off-season.

The former Montreal Alouettes assistant needed to name his staff, evaluate the CFL club's talent and begin to cultivate a new identity for a team that finished last in the East Division in 2011 with a record of just 6-12.

With his coaches in place and a newly acquired Grey Cup-winning quarterback primed to lead a rejuvenated offence, Milanovich is ready to start moulding his team.

He got a first glimpse of what he's trying to instil at the team's minicamp last month.

"(On the first day of practice) the coaches were riding the players about the way they carried the football," Milanovich said on a conference call Tuesday. "The thing that was so great for me to hear and for the coaches to see was that on Day 2, it was the players that were coaching each other on how to hold the football, and that doesn't always happen.

"There's a real sense of leadership from some of the veterans that have been around this organization that are just hungry to win and I think they're buying everything that we're selling right now. We just need to keep that going."

The major change this season for the Argos, who will host the 100th Grey Cup in November at Rogers Centre, should come on the offensive side of the ball. Toronto ranked last in passing (233 yards per game) and second-last in scoring (21.3 points per game) in 2011.

Enter Milanovich, who helped lead the Alouettes to Grey Cup championships in 2009 and 2010 as the Montreal's offensive co-ordinator. He will be calling the plays for the Argos in 2012.

Toronto's big off-season acquisition on the field was quarterback Ricky Ray, who came over in a trade with Edmonton. The team also added wide receiver Jason Barnes — Ray's former teammate with the Eskimos — and backup QB Jarious Jackson through free agency.

Jim Barker served as the Argos' coach and general manager for the last two seasons before hiring Milanovich to focus on the front office. He says although the new players will make a difference, the biggest move is the one made on the sidelines.

"Without a doubt the most important thing we've done this season is acquiring a new head coach," Barker said. "In Scott Milanovich we were able to get a guy I brought into the league, who's played for me, who's coached for me and we're very much tied at the hip. I believe in the things he believes in. I felt if we didn't make the move when we made it, Scott Milanovich was going to be the head coach somewhere else.

"This organization deserves a coach like Scott Milanovich."

In Ray, the Argos have a proven winner to replace Steven Jyles, who was part of the package that went the other way in the trade with the Eskimos.

"In Steven Jyles we had a good young player, but very unproven," Barker said. "It's been what the Toronto Argonauts have had for years and we felt like the opportunity to get a proven MVP and Grey Cup champion that's only 32 years old was too good of a deal for us to pass up. We felt like that launches us into the future."

The Argos finished 9-9 in 2010 and made the East final before losing to Montreal. But the team took a step backwards in 2011, with an anaemic offence scoring just 397 points.

That led to an overworked defence that finished last overall in yards (421.7 per game), rushing yards (136.4), passing yards (298.2) and points (27.7).

Barker says both sides of the ball will benefit from Milanovich's hiring.

"He's been the top offensive mind in this league as a co-ordinator for the last few years," Barker said. "I think his imprint has already been felt by our football team. His enthusiasm and the way that things are going to be has already been felt."

The Argos open the regular season on the road in Edmonton on June 30 in Ricky Ray's return to the Alberta capital before kicking off their home schedule July 7 against the Calgary Stampeders.

With training camp fast approaching, Milanovich says he's emboldened by the players' reception to what he's trying to preach.

"I'm really impressed with how our players have taken to it. It's obvious how hungry they are," Milanovich said. "They believe in their abilities and they're going to do whatever they're asked to do to get where they want to go."

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